By JIM McCUE | Contributor
Lincoln High’s girls basketball team is working hard to rebound.
The Trojans recently lost senior star Nyre Harris to a knee injury and are trying to fill the void left by the Arizona-bound guard, presenting the team with a challenge to rebound both figuratively and literally.
“It obviously changes the dynamics of the team,” first-year head coach Diane Wiese said of the loss of Harris to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a January 14 game against Berkeley. “The scoring we can figure out, but we really have to pick up the pace to make up for the rebounding she gave us.”
Despite playing as a shooting guard, Harris averaged eight rebounds per game (to go along with her 17 points per contest) to provide support on the boards to senior center Teylor McMiller and to prevent second-chance points for the opposition. At 6-foot-1, McMiller is by far the tallest player on the team, standing four to five inches taller than any of her teammates.
“Because we are not the biggest group, we really need to get boards as a team,” McMiller said. “Everyone knows that we all need to step it up on the boards, and I am really proud of everyone on our team for facing the challenge and doing more.”
Wiese has looked to team captain Alysa Valentine and fellow seniors McMiller, Elizabeth Rodriguez, and Patricia Morales to take an active role in leading the team through the transition of playing without its leading scorer. Valentine, who is also the team’s starting point guard, has worked hard to create opportunities and distribute the ball to teammates.
“I have played with Nyre since the sixth or seventh grade, so I was used to seeing her on the floor and getting her the ball,” Valentine said. “I just have to create more and look for other people. It’s a matter of finding who is open and trusting them to make shots.”
The adjustment to playing without Harris is hardly the first change the Trojans have faced since concluding a successful 2011 season as Sac-Joaquin Section Division I runners-up and NorCal semifinalists. Lincoln graduated three starters, including captains Devyn Weymouth and Dana Gayagoy. And head coach Steve Coffey, who guided the Trojans to a 69-17 record in four seasons, accepted a teaching assignment overseas in Beirut.
Wiese, who coached at Fresno Pacific University for 10 years, including three as head coach, joined the Lincoln staff as a physical education teacher and girls basketball coach after spending the last five years working for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization. With a fresh group of players and a new coach, the Trojans could have entered a rebuilding phase. But, Wiese was quick to realize the talent she had inherited and the team set a mission to return to the section final and make a run at a state championship berth.
“I was blessed to step into a situation with a good group of girls,” Wiese said. “It has been our mission to get back to the section final and win it this time, and the girls all bought into it.”
The mission was on course as Lincoln (15-3 overall, 5-0 in San Joaquin AA League play) started the season 12-1 and winners of eight straight before the ill-fated Berkeley game. Harris suffered her injury just four minutes into the game. The team rallied to stay close to the Yellowjackets before eventually succumbing to the perennial Bay Area power 61-44.
The challenging matchup with Berkeley was just one of a handful of “tests” on the Trojans’ schedule, which included games against Carondelet-Concord and Del Oro-Loomis. Remaining games include matchups with Delta River League powers St. Francis-Sacramento and Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove.
Initially, the difficult schedule was made to give the players a chance to face the kind of competition they would see in the postseason. But now the matchups will serve as a way to determine what areas of Lincoln’s game need to be addressed in order to have a shot at returning to the section title game and beyond.
“The big games provide us with a chance to focus on our defense and to figure out ways to improve on offense,” junior guard Ashlyn Crenshaw said. “We know we need to get better and the better competition allows us to work on those things against teams we expect to see in the playoffs.”
By the time the playoffs arrive, the Trojans will have played a dozen games without Harris in the lineup “” ample time to gel as a unit on the floor and grow as a close-knit group off the court. Despite some new faces and roles, coach and players agree the team has become closer than many expected.
“I thought it would be a longer transition with almost half of our team being new this year,” Crenshaw said. “But we have all gotten along from the start and are like a little family now.”
As most players will tell you, the biggest part of rebounding is believing you can do it.
“I’m really proud of our team,” McMiller said. “It has been a huge adjustment, but we are doing well and getting better. Our main goal is still to go to state, and I believe we can do it.”
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